Why Certify Organic Personal Care Products if You Don't Have To?

Certified Organic Body Care Packaging
cosmétique nature © Pierre brillot

If you create a line of organic personal care products, you don't officially have to certify them as organic. Right now, as the law stands, no one formally regulates organic personal care products.

This seems like great news for the industry. No big brother checking up on you. No organic certification applications or fees to deal with. No muss, no fuss. You can sell organic body care labeled as you see fit.

Super news? Or a big mess for the industry and consumers?

Current Status


The FDA regulates all cosmetics under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act). The FDA defines cosmetics by use as, "Articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body...for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance."

You must abide by the FD&C Act when creating or selling cosmetics. However, the FDA has absolutely no power over the term organic. The FDA doesn't define organic body care. They also don't regulate use of the term organic on products.

Doesn't the USDA Regulate Organic Body Care?

Certify yes. Regulate no. Any cosmetic, body care product, or personal care product made with agricultural ingredients that meets the USDA National Organic Program organic production, handling, processing and labeling standards, may be eligible for USDA organic certification under NOP.

That said, the USDA doesn't crack down on falsely labeled organic products.

Requirements for Certified Organic Body Care


  • A handler of organic body care must be certified by a USDA-accredited organic certifying agent.
  • Once certified, body care products are eligible for four different organic labeling categories. These are the same four categories that apply to all certified organic products, including certified organic food.

    What's the Catch?

    Eligibility for USDA organic certification does not mean the same thing as regulation. The USDA isn't checking up on body care companies and products who use the term organic on their packaging and products.

    The USDA has authority over the labeling of body care products only if they are made with agricultural ingredients. Body care products can also be certified to various private standards, but these standards aren't the same across the board. The USDA allows body care products to claim terms like 'herbal,' 'natural,' and even 'organic,' so long as they don't falsely claim 'USDA organic.'

    What's all the Fuss About?


    The debate over certified organic body care vs. non-certified centers mainly around consumer safety. The majority of non-certified products on the market aren't tested for consumer safety.

    The FDA says they regulate body care products, stating, "Under the FD&C Act, all cosmetic products and ingredients must be safe for consumers." The FDA makes statements like this, but stops there, allowing the body care industry to self-regulate.

    In fact, the FDA notes that it's the responsibility of the companies and individuals who market body care to ensure that products and ingredients are safe for the intended use.

    Self regulation doesn't work: FDA approved products on the market today contain harmful ingredients like diethyl phthalate, synthetic musks, toluene, coal tar, petroleum, parabens and more. These and other chemicals in body care products are known to cause problems like infertility, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, cancer, hormone disruption, allergies, immunotoxicity, organ system toxicity, irritation to skin, eyes, or lungs and many other health problems.

    Even FDA approved baby care products contain harmful chemicals such as known carcinogens, 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde.


    Example of the Problem

    The debate over non-organic and certified organic body care products is confusing. It's easier to understand if you see an example.


    1. A manufacturer makes some shampoo.
    2. The shampoo contains some organic lavender essential oil, but also contains 1,4-dioxane, a known cancer causing chemical.
    3. Certified USDA organic body care products are not allowed to contain harmful ingredients or chemicals. Since the shampoo contains 1,4-dioxane, it does not meet certification standards under the USDA organic certification process.
    4. Since no one regulates the term organic, and since the product does contain organic lavender oil, the manufacturer decides to label the shampoo as, 'Organically Herbal Lavender Shampoo.'.
    5. The new shampoo heads to the shelves of the local natural grocery store. A consumer sees the product label, assume it's safe and organic because it says, 'Organically Herbal' and buys it.

    Arguments For

    There are plenty of good reasons why companies should certify organic body care, even though they're not required to.

    • In the U.S. today the only way to prove that a body care product is 100% is to get the product certified as USDA certified organic and slap the USDA organic seal on it.

    • The USDA organic seal gives consumers a way to tell real organic products from the fake organic products.

    • Becoming certified shows that your organic body care company values the term organic.

    • Getting certified proves that you care about the health and safety of your customers.

    • Certification standards should be fair. Right now the USDA cracks down on food companies who mislabel organic food products. For example, a juice maker cannot label juice as 'organic' in any way, shape or form unless it's been certified organic by the USDA. Food and body care products should be treated the same in order to help standardize the organic industry.

    Arguments Against

    Arguments against organic certification tend to fall under a few categories: certification is too much work; it's unnecessary; or consumers should understand ingredients better on their own.

    • Self-regulation already works: Spokeswoman for the The Personal Care Products Council, Kathleen Dezio, says, "Cosmetic companies are required by law to substantiate the safety of their products before they are marketed. Companies take this responsibility for safety substantiation very seriously."

    • Regulating safe, organic body care is too much work: "We are concerned that the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 would put an enormous if not impossible burden on FDA, and would create a mammoth new regulatory structure for cosmetics... The measures the bill would mandate are likely unachievable even with the addition of hundreds of additional FDA scientists and millions more in funding and would not make a meaningful contribution to product safety," says the Personal Care Products Council.

    • Chemicals are safe, and if not, consumers should know better: The FDA says things like, "The FDA does not consider the lead levels in lipsticks to be a safety concern." The FDA also points out that most nail care products can easily catch fire if exposed to heat, may cause irritation or allergic reactions, and that methacrylic acid (MAA used in nail primers have caused, "A number of serious injuries to children who ingested such products or spilled them, receiving burns to their skin." The FDA doesn't have an argument as to why they don't regulate dangerious chemicals better. The FDA simply states that it's up to consumers to read labels, know the ingredients and make personal choices about the products they buy.

    Where It Stands

    As a company making or selling organic body care products, you don't have to get certified USDA organic. You can choose to label products as you like, even if you're not certified.

    That said, while consumers may be somewhat confused about organic body care labeling right now, they won't be forever.

    Consider organic food. As a new product, consumers didn't completely understand organic food labeling. Now, many consumers have educated themselves about organic food. Currently there are many savvy organic food shoppers who are truly picky about what they purchase.

    The same thing will eventually happen with organic body care. Advocacy groups and individual advocates are pushing consumer eduction about organic body care. Over 600 organic businesses have signed on with the Organic Consumers Associations' Coming Clean Campaign to support organic certification in the body care industry.

    Many consumers are boycotting fake, mislabeled organic products. For a company, the USDA seal makes it easy for consumers to choose your organic product over fake or mislabeled organic products. The USDA seal also allows consumers to feel good about purchasing your products.

    From a business or retail perspective, it makes sense to get your body care products certified organic, or to only carry certified products, even though you don't have to.

    Continue Reading...